Analysis: Athletes’ social media shape public opinions

Last week, NBA legend Dwyane Wade took to social media to address the claim made by his ex-wife that he is trying to make money off the former couple’s trans daughter. Siohvaughn Funches, Wade’s ex-wife, is contesting the legal name and gender change of Zaya Wade — the daughter the couple had in 2007. 

The court documents filed by Funches’ attorneys say her ex-husband is possibly “pressuring [Zaya] to move forward with the name and gender change in order to capitalize on the financial opportunities.” 

Zaya came out as transgender in 2020 when she was 12-years-old, and her decision to publicly do so was met with substantial support from Wade and his wife, Gabrielle Union. Wade has appeared on a number of talk shows — including “Good Morning America” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” — to discuss how Zaya is educating him on the transgender community and how he’s learning to support her. 

“I guess I have to address these allegations here, which is a damn shame,” Wade wrote on Instagram. “These are serious and harmful allegations that have hurt our children… [Zaya] has maintained a 4.0 GPA in honors classes while navigating all this unsolicited and harmful attention and debates about her gender and sexuality.”

Wade’s response also alleges that Funches is not willing to have a conversation with Zaya and makes note that he was awarded full custody of Zaya and her brother Zaire Wade after a previous legal battle.

This is one of the many positive illustrations of an athlete using their platform to speak up for social change. Since his retirement in 2019, Wade has publicly spoken out against anti-trans discrimination laws, and with the current questionable status of laws surrounding trans athletes, Wade’s actions become that much more valuable.

Wade understands the influence his platform and millions of followers — 29 million across Twitter and Instagram — have, but unfortunately not every athlete who has amassed a global brand understands this.

Two weeks ago, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who has a combined 22.2 million followers on Instagram and Twitter, shared the link to the movie “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” on his social platforms. The film, directed by Ronald Dalton Jr., denies that the Holocaust ever happened, quotes Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and makes many stereotypical remarks towards Ashkenazi Jewish people.

Though you may not think posting a link could cause substantial harm, since Irving’s post, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” has risen to the No. 1 best seller on Amazon’s Ethnic Studies list, and the accompanying book and its sequels hold the top five best-selling spots in People of African Descent and Black Studies.

When asked about why he shared the film, and whether or not he is anti-Semitic, Irving’s response only caused more concern. Irving refused to apologize for sharing the movie, did not deny being anti-Semitic and would not take responsibility for any hurt or harm caused by the film.

On Thursday, the FBI in Newark said they received “credible information of a broad threat to synagogues in [New Jersey].” New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued a statement in response saying “out of an abundance of caution you will see increased police presence in our Jewish community and at houses of worship.”

Later on Thursday, the Nets suspended Irving from the team indefinitely without pay for a minimum of five games. Irving went to Instagram to finally issue an apology, saying “To All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize.”

Though the apology was a step in the right direction, it came after the harm had already been done, and there’s no erasing the actions that resulted from Irving’s post. Irving took for granted his influence as a professional athlete by sharing this film, and the repercussions not only affected his life but millions of others.

The recent posts from Wade and Irving display the magnitude of influence athletes can have in the world, positive and negative. Wade’s public support of Zaya and the trans community has helped spark a positive discussion of trans rights, while Irving’s promotion of a Holocaust-denying film has only caused more hate and harm.

There are countless examples of athletes speaking up on issues that need attention, such as the myriad of support WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner has received from her teammates and other athletes over her imprisonment in Russia. The more athletes use their voices and platforms to promote positive change, the more equitable and just our society can become.

Photo courtesy of Erik Drost, Wikipedia.